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Daily News - 18 February 1999

Government freezes spending
Rafael Camilo, Director of the National Planning Office (ONAPLAN), announced yesterday that President Fernández has imposed a freeze on regular government spending for the remainder of 1999. The freeze is intended to ensure that the government does not build up a budgetary deficit. Camilo explained that the measure is intended to reassure the markets that there is no need for further pressure on the Dominican peso. In recent weeks the peso has weakened slightly against the U.S. dollar despite massive injections of dollars by the Central Bank. This week the Central Bank started restricting the dollar supply to banks to try to further retard conversions from pesos into dollars. Camilo suggested that there is no reason to worry about the recent exchange rate shift, because some change "is natural" when an economy is growing vigorously, and that at this time of year businesses are replenishing inventory after year-end sales, necessitating dollar payments for imports.

Peguero Méndez: Monetary Code "dead on arrival"
The President of the Chamber of Deputies, Héctor Rafael Peguero Méndez [Dominican Revolutionary Party (PRD) – Independencia], yesterday declared the Senate bill for a Financial and Monetary Code passed earlier this week to be "stillborn." Speaking on the television current affairs show "Hola," Peguero Méndez said that the Senate only passed the bill "to give the appearance that they are working" while knowing full well that the Chamber of Deputies could not act on it in the ten days remaining before a new legislative session begins. He noted that, despite promises of Senate President Ramón Alburquerque (PRD-Monte Plata) to the contrary, the Senate has yet to formally transmit the bill to the lower chamber. A bill "of this magnitude" requires careful consideration and consensus, he asserted. The bill will have to be reintroduced in the next legislative session. The Code would change the rules governing the Central Bank, commercial banks, savings and loan associations, interest rates, exchange controls, financial transactions, repatriation of profits, issuance of public debt instruments (such as bonds), etc.

Amcham: step up CDE privatization
The American Chamber of Commerce in the Dominican Republic (Amcham) called on the Fernández Government to speed up the privatization process for the Dominican Electricity Corporation (CDE). Speaking at Amcham’s monthly luncheon, Amcham President Alfonso Paniagua, said the organization wants to see the process stepped up while ensuring that it is "transparent" and "effective" so that electricity services can improve and public funds can be refocused on social problems. The luncheon’s guest speaker, Dr. Antonio Isa Conde, President of the entity overseeing the "capitalization" (as the Dominican government calls it) of CDE, the Commission for Public Enterprise Reform (CREP), said that the opening of bidding for the parts of CDE would be held at the end of March or beginning of April. The bidding originally was scheduled for last December, but was postponed so that CDE could "clear up some problems" (such as CDE’s overdue payments to private generators) that might have caused some potential bidders to stay away. Isa Conde assured Amcham that the 19 companies and consortia that have been prequalified for bidding have recently reaffirmed their intention to participate.

Senate approves export promotion bill
The Senate last night approved in its second reading a new export promotion law. Among other things, the bill would give exporters a refund on import tariffs paid on primary materials, inputs, intermediate goods, labels, packages and packaging material used in finished products they export from the DR. Also, products returned to suppliers abroad in the same state in which they were imported would receive the refund or tariff credit. Senate President Alburquerque promised to send the bill to the Chamber of Deputies today (Thursday) for immediate action by the lower house.

President rejects PRD dialogue conditions
President Leonel Fernández yesterday sent a letter to PRD President Enmanuel Esquea Guerrero providing his response to PRD’s stated preconditions for entering into a political dialogue. Just the day before Esquea Guerrero had sent Fernández a letter laying out PRD’s demands. In his own letter, President Fernández called for PRD to suggest a date for initiating the dialogue and he rejected all three of PRD’s major demands. The PRD had sought a preset agenda; President Fernández wants it to be open-ended. [It has been suggested that the President’s political party, the Dominican Liberation Party (PLD), wants an open agenda so that it can raise the issue of the Central Election Board (JCE), something PRD would not agree to include in a set agenda.] The PRD had called for the creation of a commission of eminent persons ("notables") to run the Dominican Municipal League (LMD) instead of Senator Amable Aristy Castro [Reformist-Social Christian Party (PRSC) – Altagracia)] until the courts decide whether Aristy Castro or PRD’s Julio Maríñez Rosario is the real LMD Secretary-General (SG). [Two parallel municipal assemblies were held on January 26th which elected Aristy Castro and Maríñez Rosario as SG, both after making dubious rule changes.] President Fernández said that it was not up to the President to make such a concession, since the LMD technically is not under his jurisdiction, and in any case, making such a concession would damage confidence in the courts to decide such disputes. PRD’s third major demand was that PRSC and PLD negotiate as one in the dialogue. President Fernández did not reject this demand outright; he simply said PRSC should be included in the dialogue, which can be interpreted as meaning PRSC would be represented by itself, not PLD.
Even before receiving Fernández’s letter, Esquea Guerrero told reporters that PRD would hold firm to its demands before agreeing to dialogue.

Senate decides on legal action vs. Interior Minister
The Senate adopted yesterday a resolution empowering its President, Ramón Alburquerque (PRD-Monte Plata), to take legal action on its behalf against the Interior and Police Minister Ramón Andrés Blanco Fernández. The measure was passed by 17 Senators from the Santo Domingo Accord (ASD), the coalition of PRD and allied parties who together command a majority in the Senate. Three PLD Senators walked out before the vote, calling the measure "irregular." The resolution, drafted by Senator Milton Ray Guevara (PRD-Samaná), claims that Blanco Fernández violated Article 37, section 11 of the Dominican Constitution when he refused to answer a Senate summons to appear for questioning before that body on February 2nd. That Constitutional passage empowers the Congress to question public officials, although it does not clearly say those officials must obey Congressional calls to be questioned nor does it provide for sanctions if they do not. The February 2nd interrogation was called to question the Minister about his actions during the LMD standoff at the end of January. During those events senators were prevented from going to League headquarters and Senator Andrés Batista García was shot by police.

Poll: Hipólito Mejía clear favorite of PRD
In today’s installment of Listin Diario’s slow trickle of results from its recent poll conducted with the Spanish firm Sigma Dos, PRD party faithful were asked who they would vote for in primaries to decide the Party’s candidate for the year 2000 presidential elections. The results show a nine-point gain in the lead for former Agriculture Minister Hipólito Mejía since a similar poll conducted in December, from 57.5% up to 66.4%. Dropping nearly as much is ex-Santo Domingo mayor Rafael ("Fello") Suberví Bonilla, who has gone from 26.8% in December to 15.5% in February. Of the other three "pre-candidates," Senator Milagros Ortíz Bosch (National District) has inched up from 6.8% to 8.0%, PRD Secretary-General Hatuey Decamps from 5.6% to 6.9%, and Senator Rafael Abinader (Santiago) from 0.7% to 2.7% [it should be noted that the rises for all three fall within the 2% margin of error for the poll]. Perhaps more interesting are the results of another question put to PRD respondents to the poll: asked who would be their second choice for PRD presidential candidate, Senator Ortíz Bosch emerged strongest – 50.2%, versus 16.6% for Mejía, 10.6% for Suberví, 8.4% for Decamps and 2.4% for Abinader. This may increase the chances that Senator Ortíz Bosch is selected as the PRD candidate for Vice President. Why is the Senator only the runner-up among party faithful when a broader poll last November suggested that the general public prefers her to Mejía? The answer may be in another question put to party faithful in the Listin/Sigma Dos poll: would you prefer the PRD presidential candidate to be a man or women? A resounding 72.8% answered that they preferred a man, while 15.3% said they did not care which and 9.7% preferred a woman.

New U.S. residence visa hotline
Have a Dominican family member, friend or loved one awaiting word on their application for a U.S. residency visa? Let them know about the new service to be offered by the U.S. Consulate in Santo Domingo beginning March 1st. As of that date the approximately 50,000 residence visa applicants that the consulate deals with can call the number 1-976-1000, give their case number and be informed of the status of their application. Codetel, which will manage the technical side of the service, will charge RD$20 to the next bill for the phone utilized for the call. The service allows Dominicans to check on their application status without having to journey to the Consulate and wait in long, slow lines.

Senate passes bill to force baseball league expansion
The Senate yesterday passed an amendment to Law 98-97 that would empower the Sports Ministry (SEDEFIR) to force the Professional Baseball League to give full participation rights to the Puerto Plata Dolphins in the Winter Baseball Tournament. So far the League has resisted authorizing the Dolphins to play in the Tournament. Although Law 98-97 called for expansion, it did not provide mechanisms for SEDEFIR to enforce it. The amendment would empower SEDEFIR to impose fines (anywhere from RD$200,000 to a cap of RD$1 million) or six months in prison for violating Law 98-97. The measure now goes to the Chamber of Deputies for consideration.

Presidente’s Carnival concert schedule released
The Tourism Ministry and Cervecería Nacional, brewers of Presidente Beer, announced at a press conference the schedule of the 25 free concerts that will be held in Santo Domingo and elsewhere as part of the Carnival celebrations starting today. The main concerts will be held on Santo Domingo’s Port Avenue (Avenida del Puerto), usually starting at 8:00 pm. These include:

Feb. 18 - Freddy Geraldo and Orchestra
Feb. 19 – K-Libre
Feb. 20 – Rokabanda
Feb. 21 – Los Toros Band
Feb. 25 – La Banda Chula
Feb. 26 – Rokabanda
Feb. 27 – Sin Fronteras
Feb. 28 (Carnival Parade Day) – La Coco Band, Toño Rosario, Eddy Herrera

Neighborhood street concerts in Santo Domingo are planned for Sunday, Feb. 21st in Los Minas with Eddy Herrera, in Herrera with K-Libre on Friday, Feb. 26th, and Coca Band in Villa Juana on Saturday, Feb. 27th. All these concerts will begin at 8:00 pm. In addition, Fernando Villalona will appear at the club "Kokomo’s" on Monday the 22nd, Coco Band at "Beer House" on Friday the 26th, Eddy Herrera at "Café Atlántico" on Friday the 26th and Rokabanda at "Eagle" in Ozama on Saturday the 27th.

As for the rest of the country, the following schedule was announced:

Feb. 18 – Sin Fronteras in Bonao
Feb. 19 – Grupo Mío in "D’Caché Disco" in Baní; Sin Fronteras in "Bacha Café" in Santiago
Feb. 20 – Sin Fronteras in "El Monstruo" in San Francisco de Macorís
Feb. 27 – Eddy Herrera in the Hotel Río San Juan of San Francisco de Macorís

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